When Adin woke up on Lufthansa flight 456, it had already landed at LAX and he'd had the strangest night of his life. Words stuck in his sandy and arid mouth.
"I know he didn't have too much to drink. I served him myself," one of the flight attendants said. "Does he look pale to you?"
"Yes," said the air marshal. "Better call the EMTs." Two other people gathered around him as he fought the dizzy spinning of his brain. He looked out the window and his heart slammed into his rib cage when he saw a familiar, handsome figure walking confidently away from the gate inside the terminal. A sudden feeling like he'd never known, a hunger, coursed through him, and he flushed from his head to his toes.
"Water," Adin croaked.
"There you are." The flight attendant, Marcia, motioned to someone farther to the front of the cabin. "Welcome back. You were beginning to scare us. Do you have a medical condition?"
"Blood sugar gets low when I travel," Adin murmured, and someone brought him not only water but also a can of orange juice.
"Thank you." He took a sip. It would hardly have been appropriate to tell them that he became a member of the Mile High Club, not entirely consensually, in the bathroom somewhere over the American heartland. "I'm sure I'll be fine." He looked around at the worried faces.
"If you're certain...? We can call for assistance. Is there someone waiting for you?"
He reassured her. "I'll be fine. I must have been more run-down than I thought." He threw the blanket off onto the seat next to the window and got carefully to his feet as if he was feeling better already.
"Oh, you're bleeding." She pointed to a smudge of what looked to be blood on his shirt.
Adin held the collar away from him; his tie was gone. "Oh, odd. I don't remember cutting myself yesterday when I shaved. Maybe it's the electric shaver. Sometimes they bite a little."
"Well." She didn't look convinced. Adin could hardly tell her that the man who'd broken into the bathroom and fucked him had also bit him. He stood, carefully testing his legs against the hollow airplane floor. He turned away from their curious faces to open the overhead bin.
"I'll just get my case," he said. "It's in the..."
Nothing was there. Motherfuck. The bastard had stolen his case. Adin felt a terrible surge of disappointment. He'd known somehow it would come to this, had felt that he was being played. He cursed. Even as he'd allowed it to happen, he'd known better.
"Never mind," he ground out, walking slowly to the cabin door. He felt stupid tired; his limbs didn't move when he told them to. He imagined he was jerking like a marionette. "Thank you." He nodded to Marcia.
"See you next time," she said. He couldn't help but think it would be a long time before he flew again. A long, long time.
He got his checked bag, went through a groggy and embarrassing hour in customs, and left the international terminal to find a cab to the Westin Bonaventure.
At midnight, jet-lagged and unable to sleep, Adin looked out from his hotel room to see all of Los Angeles glittering below him. He had a cut-glass tumbler with three fingers of Bushmills in it, and a chance to think. The feeling, he knew, the stalking began in Frankfurt. It was on his mind that last night when he'd gone out with Tariq. He'd even tried to rationalize it away in the airport lounge the day before. He would never put ice in a glass of good whiskey, but the cold glass might have felt good on his aching head. He closed his eyes and tried to remember everything that happened at the airport the day before.
* * * *
Adin checked his watch again. He'd come to the airport hours early to deal with security checks and now sat in one of the lounges trying to look relaxed with the last third of a drink in his hand. He didn't want to project the image of overt wariness, but neither did he want to look vulnerable... It was enough to maintain the discreet and politely disinterested persona he had to affect when he was carrying something important. He shifted his eyes down and checked his case. Still there. Of course it was.
Only a handful of people in the world would be interested in his case and not simply the money its contents represented. Adin knew he was taking unusual precautions. Yet the feeling that he was being followed persisted. Even the night before, when he'd gone to the opera with his friend Tariq, he'd been completely unable to concentrate on the pleasures the evening afforded. He'd sensed another presence with them. He noticed it at the theater, and then later at Tariq's home, where he spent the night. It bothered him enough to sweep the gauzy draperies back and open the French doors onto the balcony of Tariq's lovely old flat, but there was no one there. Tariq teased him for being paranoid and then coaxed him back to bed and made him forget. Tariq could make him forget his name. Yet still...
Adin shook his head. He should be overjoyed. He was already famous in academic circles as an authority on antique erotica. Among his kind, the bibliophiles and the professors from the small private university where he taught English literature to recalcitrant undergrads, he was thought to be a dashing if somewhat eccentric fanatic with more energy than sense, who hared off after any clue to a manuscript that promised to be just what this one was—if the rumors about it turned out to be true.
Those colleagues who knew him well envied his gift for sourcing rare books; even those that historians and scholars claimed could not exist, as they had this one. He could also claim a gift for ruthless and intuitive bidding at auctions. But Notturno? Finding that was going to cement his status among his peers for a lifetime, as well as garner him the notoriety he worried he secretly craved. More than one of his peers thought of him as the shocking and unnatural Dr. Adin Tredeger, purveyor of exotic porn.
Notturno would have been a great prize, regardless of its subject matter, regardless of its age, because it was in amazing shape, from what Adin had seen of its carefully preserved pages. But with provenance in place, the nature and quality of the art scattered throughout the leather-bound journal, and the kinds of entries the owner made within it, Notturno was proving to be the most exciting find of his career.
Adin's interest was piqued when a veiled reference to a journal, said to be written by an Italian count, used the term amore vietato, or forbidden love. Swirling the remaining whiskey in his glass, Adin almost laughed again, remembering the look on the faces of the collectors he'd called in Frankfurt to confer. They had been unprepared for the ferociously erotic text, or the fact that it illustrated a pair of very well-hung and hungry early-sixteenth-century Italian aristocrats, known vaguely by historians to have married advantageously and procreated and lived their short lives in relative obscurity.
At first glance, Notturno didn't seem to describe a love affair as much as it chronicled a series of blistering sexual encounters between two men who wanted each other and, for whatever reason, played at games that would only become more widely written about and practiced after de Sade made them famous in the late eighteenth century. The rumor, in fact, was that de Sade himself had come into contact with this very manuscript on his travels in Italy and had stolen from it extensively. The rumors had turned out to be exaggerated, but what little Adin had seen of Notturno was enough to put a blush on his face for weeks. The journal itself, packed and preserved as best it could be for travel, weighed heavily on his mind. He hadn't wanted it out of his sight, and yet... Circumstances made him cautious. The nagging feeling that someone else wanted it, that someone was out there waiting for the chance to get their hands on it, hadn't left him.
Adin finished his drink and picked up his case. Any minute the call to board Lufthansa flight 456, nonstop from Frankfurt to Los Angeles, would go out over the PA system, and he was ready. Glancing around again, he headed to the gate. The weight of the case shifted in his hand, heavy, a potent reminder of the gravity of the situation. Still uneasy, he turned a full circle but could see no one paying him any particular attention. He shook off the feeling and walked on.
Flying west at this time of day, Adin always had the peculiar sensation that he was chasing the darkness. He was cold and needed a shave. The seemingly endless hours on the flight made him thirsty and dry. They'd had good weather so far, and he guessed that it would continue, given that it was midsummer. The weather in Los Angeles was bound to be hot, and he hoped the final authentication would go smoothly so he could get home to the Olympic Peninsula—for a while at least—before business called him out again or the school term started.
Adin always wore two watches when he traveled, a habit that was so ingrained he even did it when he was traveling within the same time zone. One had been his father's, a large and handsome round gold analog with a brown leather strap that he'd replaced at least twice since his father's death. He looked at the second watch on his wrist, a more modern white gold Rolex, California time, and figured that he was probably somewhere over the Midwest. He made his way through the darkened cabin in his stocking feet, headed toward the bathroom with his toiletry kit, knowing that later he would have less opportunity as people began waking up.
Adin got out his electric razor and plugged it in, getting ready to defoliate. He had his iPod on and was listening to the Black Eyed Peas' "Pump It" as he prepared for his morning routine. He didn't want to arrive in L.A. jet-lagged and spacey. A quick look in the mirror revealed that his suit was rumpled, but as soon as he got to his hotel, he'd change. He'd closed his eyes and brushed his teeth, taking a moment to enjoy his music, when he felt a draft and a change in the light. He looked up, stunned, as a man entered the tiny, cramped airplane bathroom. The man closed the door and leaned against it, looking at Adin, squeezing him farther back into the small space.
"What the hell?" Adin asked, sure he was drooling toothpaste. He almost choked, and wiped his mouth on a paper towel. "I'm sorry. I was sure I locked the door." He waited for the man to catch on. "Occupied." He pointed to the little sliding sign on the door. "I'll be out in a minute."
The man made no move to leave. He stood implacably, and Adin took in the rich texture of his clothing, which appeared completely unaffected by the long flight, and his face, which Adin might have described as darkly handsome had he not been pissed off.
"Excuse me," said Adin, pausing his music. He looked into dark brown eyes that showed a hint of warmth but gave off none.
"Of course," said the man. "Go ahead with your ablutions. I will wait."
"Excuse me?" Adin said again, this time framing a question. "It's customary to wait outside."
"I think you'll find that I'm not a very customary man, Adin." He said Adin's name like a warm caress, carefully, saying AH-din like it was supposed to be pronounced.
"Have we met?" asked Adin.
"No, not really." The man had a full, mobile mouth, sensuous, with lips that looked stained dark but were probably just a little dry from flying. Maybe he, like Adin, had been compensating by licking them. The thought made Adin want to look at them again. His gaze dropped from the stranger's eyes to those full, soft lips, and sure enough, that tongue swept out and over them, luscious and glistening. "If we had, you would remember."
"I see," said Adin, not quite sure what to make of that. The man still didn't move, and Adin removed his earbuds. "Who are you, exactly?"
"I don't know who I am, exactly, Adin. I doubt you know who you are, exactly. I will say that sometimes I'm a Russian poet, sometimes I'm an Italian count, and sometimes I'm a French fur trader. That was fun. Once I even owned a brothel in San Francisco, but the girls were far more trouble than they were ultimately worth."
Actor, thought Adin dismissively, turning back to shave.
"I really must get ready."
"Where are my manners? I'm called Donte." He reached for Adin's shoulder and turned him back around.
"Donte? Not Dante?"
"Dante? No, DOHN-tay. Like you are AH-din and not AY-den." The man had a peculiar accent, as though he tasted each word like a treat, rolling it on his tongue and biting it off like it was juicy to him.
"I see," said Adin.
"I doubt that," murmured Donte. "I saw you, you know, at the opera with your friend. What was his name?"
"Tariq." Adin wondered why he answered. Something about Donte's gaze was so compelling...
"Tariq. A good name. I saw you together and knew..."
"That he would get to fuck you at the end of the evening while I would have to go home and imagine it." Donte put out a finger and lightly trailed it down Adin's cheek. "So pretty."
"You are on crack," snapped Adin, jerking his head away. He'd known he was being stalked. Worried now, he eyed the door against which the man was standing. He originally thought no one could harm him on an airplane at thirty thousand feet, but this man...
"Don't be afraid, Adin," Donte crooned to him, his voice moving through Adin like good liquor. The man stroked his hair softly, and Adin leaned into his touch.
"I'm not afraid." Adin found that it was true. He was alarmed but unafraid. He shook his head to clear it. His brain felt fuzzy and filled with noise. "But I could call for an air marshal, and I'm sure neither of us wants to go through that."
"No, we don't. You're curious. You want to know why I'm here. You want to know why I invaded your privacy."
Adin's mouth, already dry, was now crusty and stuck. "Why?"
"For this," Donte whispered, seeming to come even closer without moving a muscle. He slid his hands up to the collar of Adin's shirt and caught his fingers in Adin's tie, unknotting and removing it. Donte's hands feathered Adin with gentle caresses as he slipped them across Adin's chest to undress him. Donte found skin and slid a hand under Adin's shirt to graze it. One silky finger moved over his nipple.
Adin hissed in response, and Donte smiled.
"So pretty," he repeated. Donte openly admired Adin, tugging the shirt down off his shoulders and letting it slide to the floor. They had no room to maneuver, less than the space they stood in, but somehow, where once they stood not touching, suddenly their bodies were pressed together, straining, the heat between them growing exponentially. Adin's body responded with lethal hunger.
"No, of course you don't, caro."
Nevertheless, he was certainly about to... Damn it. Adin strained toward the beautiful man who now worked open his trousers, pushing and tugging until he was almost naked. "No, but I really, really..." Adin's trousers and briefs hit the floor, and he stepped out of them in a daze.
"I can see that," said Donte with a smile. "You are willing only for me, yes? Un amore vietato, non?"
"Yes...no!" Adin tried to back up, but there was nowhere to go. "Please, this is crazy."
"But here we are." Donte cupped Adin's face with both hands. "You are already nude, and you haven't yet even put your lips to mine. Come, Adin. Kiss me." And Adin did. His whole life, his whole world, all his thoughts and feelings and desires, were supplanted by the suggestion to kiss Donte.
Adin's mind registered that it could not be real. It was some kind of glamour magic of the moment, something that worked within his brain like oxygen deprivation, but he kissed Donte and went on kissing him. When Donte pulled his thick, uncut cock from his trousers and pushed Adin up against the wall, Adin wrapped his legs around the handsome man and pressed his feet on the backs of Donte's muscled thighs for traction, his only murmur causing the briefest time-out for Donte to put on a condom and slick himself with lube, which Adin supplied from his own damned toiletry kit.
Nothing could have prepared Adin for the exquisite feel of Donte parting his ass cheeks and taking him in a single powerful thrust. The red-hot burn that seemed cold at the same time, the pressure, the fullness, and even the pain evolved into something hot and primitive. Adin breathed in sex and man and something else, something extraordinary that infused the air with the aroma of fresh herbs like thyme or basil. Something that teased at his nostrils, complex and earthy and completely at odds with getting busy in an airplane bathroom. Something that felt warm, even though the man who held and coolly fucked him felt anything but.
Donte was impossibly strong; his muscled arms held Adin steady while his cock surged into Adin's ass. His kisses were possessive and demanding. Adin could only cling, kiss back, and feel the heat race through him. He lost himself in the moment completely, so that when Donte sought out the tender flesh at the junction of his neck and shoulder and bit down, immense shock waves of pleasure slid down Adin's spine and ended in explosions from his cock. Adin soared into his climax without ever having touched himself, and Donte followed as Adin convulsed around him. He jerked his hips, fierce and hard, slamming Adin back against the wall and pressing in deep until he emptied himself into the latex.
After they stopped pulsing together and their ragged breathing turned to sighs, Donte allowed Adin to slump to the commode while he removed and tossed the condom. Adin's legs trembled uncontrollably. Donte cleaned the semen stains off his suit as well as he could, looking at himself in the mirror. Adin didn't see him. The angle, Adin supposed, was wrong. He would have liked to see Donte's face just then.
"Adin," said Donte. "You have something that belongs to me."
"I do?" Adin looked up at the man who seemed like a dark tower in the tiny space. "What?"
"You must not be angry when I take it from you, caro." He took Adin's arms and helped him to stand, then kissed him tenderly, opening Adin up again and taking his mouth. "I will give you something of equal value in return; I'll find something extraordinary, and it will be yours."
"Oh," said Adin. Truly, when he got back he was going to have a thorough neurological workup.
"Per favori, non dimenticarmi," he whispered. Please don't forget me.
When Donte left the bathroom quietly, the privacy slider on the door still clearly said occupied. Adin gazed around him for a moment, still foggy, still wondering what the hell was going on. He dressed himself, his trousers, shirt, and jacket looking even more disreputable than they had before. His tie was gone. His tie? Was Donte a trophy hunter?
Adin stared at his face in the mirror. He looked at his hands, which gripped the counter next to the sink, pressing down hard, white at the knuckles. He still tasted that deeply green herb scent on his tongue. He'd had impromptu sex before; in fact, he had fucked men without even the exchange of names. It was all aboveboard, a very civilized primitive exchange. Something told him that Donte was neither aboveboard nor civilized. Yet the simple truth was that if he had it to do over again, he would.
Adin left the bathroom sometime later, having made his clothing as presentable as possible. Anyone seeing him would think he was just another tired traveler. A little pale, maybe. By the time he got to his seat, he was so dizzy he could hardly stand, and he dropped into it, glad he'd chosen the aisle, glad his seatmate was two spaces over in the window seat, sound asleep. He tried to smack his lips together to wet them. He didn't have the strength to lift his arm and push the flight attendant Call button. He was suddenly afraid that something was very wrong. His hands fell into his lap and curled up into fists as he lost consciousness. He knew there was something he ought to be doing—something he ought to be thinking—but then the darkness claimed him and he knew nothing more.
* * * *
Adin turned back to the window of his room on the seventeenth floor. He saw his face clearly reflected. He sipped his whiskey slowly, allowing it to warm him, cautious because he'd lost blood. Donated blood. Because whatever Donte had nicked him with had been razor-sharp, and he hadn't imagined the sucking, couldn't have imagined the intense pleasure that it brought him. His breath puffed steamy air against the glass. He wondered if he should tell anyone and then thought better of it. After all, who could he tell?
"Fucking out of my mind," he said aloud. He turned back to the room and the rolling Pullman on the bed. It was funny. He tried not to laugh, because he was alone and he already felt more than a little insane. His last act as he packed and finished electronically checking out of his Frankfurt hotel was to switch Notturno with the informative hotel binder from the room. Even as he switched them, placing Notturno and his laptop in his Pullman and the travel guide in the missing carry-on case, he knew he was right to do it, even though it meant letting the journal leave his hands. Adin hadn't liked giving in to his paranoia, but as the feeling of being stalked persisted, he'd forced himself to act in the interest of caution. Which meant that somewhere, out there in the night, a gorgeous, appallingly sexy stalker-who-bites could order pizza from any one of a dozen German restaurants. If he could eat garlic.
Adin did laugh then as he placed Notturno securely in the hotel room's wall safe. In the morning he'd take it to the lab. While the sun was out. Just in case.